I’ve been seeing my therapist now for somewhere in the neighborhood of seven or eight months. This is a record for me, by far, and a little surprising because I feel so much “better” now and I’m still seeing her. (In contrast, every time I’ve needed to do physical therapy, I tend to stop when I stop hurting. Which really isn’t the way that’s supposed to work.)
I think the main reason I’m still going every week is that she keeps coming up with things that totally blow my mind. Case in point: I have a trigger.
I first learned about the concept of a trigger in feminist circles, usually around discussions of rape and assault, but more and more I’ve seen this expanded to other kinds of potentially triggering discussions. (As an aside–I surely didn’t know what “trigger warning” meant the first time I saw it, but somehow I was able to find out on my own without derailing a comments thread to get someone else to educate me. Wouldn’t it be nice if people similarly unenlightened about, say, trans* issues would try that approach?)
I always assumed trigger warnings were just for people who had experience with some kind of violent trauma.
I was wrong.
I don’t want to go into the specific details, but I’m discovering that arguments can be triggering for me. Actually, anything my brain reads as “confrontation” can be triggering–this points to why I have to steel myself up to walk over and ask a kid to stop doing something in the library, why I avoid making a phone call to point out a problem with a bill, why I’m having trouble doing my taxes right now, and why I have such a tough time walking away from a comments war.
I’ve actually been sitting on this post for months, because I feel a little silly about my trigger. (Okay, I think I have a couple–but this is a big one.) It doesn’t feel big enough to mention. I don’t feel like I survived an assault, or a combat zone, or anything I would call a legitimate trauma. But that definition is problematic, because it means I must apply that same standard of what constitutes “real” trauma to other people, right? And their traumas, their triggers, are no less “real” just because I say so, or because I didn’t experience them in the same way.
I know some people don’t see the value in trigger warnings, because life doesn’t come with them built in. But at least in online spaces where people care about each other, I think it’s incredibly comforting to have other people watching out for you, just as it’s comforting to be at the video store with a friend and have them know a particular movie would push all your buttons in the wrong way.
All of this is to say: if you know someone who has ever said something to you about not liking confrontation, please don’t assume that they’re weak, or passive, or timid. Please don’t push them to talk to that salesperson or honk back at that other driver. If they’re like me, there are other factors at play. And to us, even telling you about it might be too overwhelming a prospect.